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24 August 12 (Permalink)

Gotye’s “Making Mirrors” as Therapy

Having lived with depression at varying degrees throughout my adult life, I was surprised to learn that Gotye’s latest album was partly created while the artist was in the same state.

While the process of placing his thoughts into music must have been cathartic for the artist, listening to the album is just as beneficial for those currently battling the black dog, as it is proof that depression can affect anyone. 

More importantly, its existence is proof that depression can be overcome. 

Wouter De Backer (AKA Wally de Backer) (AKA Gotye) has always worn his heart on his sleeve. His second album, “Like Drawing Blood” - which features the soul-searching “Hearts a Mess”, was named after its agonisingly prolonged development process.

"Making Mirrors", the international breakthrough album, provides an even deeper insight into Wally’s subconscious, guiding the listener through his battle with depression.

A Little Bit About The Album

Some reviewers have found the album to be inconsistent, which it is when you examine the songs thematically, but not from their production construction methods. 

Gotye projects are all based on the concept of using sampled sounds (either from retro vinyl or captured by Wally himself) that are then mutated and refurbished into new music. He has explained this fascination with the comparison of sampling a can of peas falling onto a plastic ball rather than hitting a snare drum to create a rhythm. 

The bass-line of the global warming warning track “Eyes Wide Open” is a case in point. The deep, rumbling tones are actually samples of the Winton Musical Fence - a unique instrument situated in Australia’s outback. 

Knowledge of the construction of each song adds to the listening experience, especially in this case where an innovative musical instrument, isolated from civilisation, is used to effectively highlight our collective mismanagement of the Earth’s resources while we refuse to accept liability. 

This desire to create something new from either previously devised creativity or natural sources is evident on each album as the listener can appreciate the development of Wally’s skills as he experiments with different sampling and construction techniques. 

The only constant across his work thus far is the intro-intro-verse-verse-chorus-verse-chorus-outro structure that is predominant in almost every piece.

The Themes of “Making Mirrors”

The combination of Wally’s recollections of dealing with depression alongside generally themed songs essentially makes “Making Mirrors” a concept album wrapped in fragmented shards. 

The most famous track, “Somebody That I Used To Know”, illustrates how a relationship can be doomed from the start when it is suffering from a rebound effect. With the male’s infatuation of his ex-girlfriend obviously continuing into his next relationship, he takes his anger and frustrations of its failure out onto his new girlfriend, who wisely ends it and cuts all ties. 

"Eyes Wide Open" is a plea to all of us to stop paying lip-service to global warming, and accept that there will be some pain required to address the issue.

"State of the Art", the most divisive song for critics, is Wally’s light-hearted expose on the home organ phenomena that swept the world in the 70’s. I’m looking forward to seeing him perform it live in concert with Barry Morgan.

The final non-depression themed track is the heart wrenching “Bronte”, a moving tribute to a much loved family pet. 

Personally, I find this too much of a negative to leave the album on, so have added the bonus “Showdown Below My Sombrero” and “Dig Your Own Hole” as the final two tracks.

The Core Issue: Wally’s Journey With Depression

Track One: Making Mirrors

The album’s title track and introductory snippet is a dream-like pseudo-instrumental where Wally’s voice is heard as a phantom in the background. 

This piece summarises the depths felt when dealing with depression. Dreams of doorways normally indicate the possibilities of new beginnings, but in this case even though he is reaching towards the future, his state of mind is dragging him back to the darkness.

This feeling of lack of direction is exacerbated by his introspection that is imprisoning him, and causing a downward, repetitive spiral (the mirrors referred to in the final line). 

The main topic of this piece is the cornerstone addressed by the remainder of the album: the battle with low self-esteem.

Dreamt of a doorway 
That opened to everything 
And I’m reaching towards it 
Drifting backwards  
Drawing the curtains 
Windows inside my bed 
Maybe I’m only making mirrors

Track Two: Easy Way Out

For such a funky, uptempo track, this song delves into the mindset of someone frustrated with life and the debilitative negative thoughts that depression inflict.

When faced with depression, the normal response is to try to find a way to withdraw from what is causing you pain: “looking for an easy way out”.

Perhaps the “seventeen seconds” refers to a sample that Wally was struggling with, but this is inconsequential for the listener: it’s proof that the desire for escape is a universal one. 

"Easy Way Out" can be interpreted as seeming to just exist in life, watching it, but not experiencing it owing to memories that hold you back. 

Perhaps there was a negative experience in the past (like being rejected by a friend) that stops you from wanting to meet people at parties (what’s the point? They’re only going to leave you.), but this behaviour merely continues your inability to truly connect, and leaves you “scratching the surface of life”.

Sufferers of depression know too well the “voices in the back of my head”: they’re the ones that tell you you’re not worth it, that there’s no point, and in extreme cases, that you should end it all.

Fortunately for myself, I haven’t had thoughts of suicide, and I doubt (and hope) that Wally didn’t either, but it’s easy to see how this song could be interpreted at that extreme. For me, it’s an affirmation that the negative cycle exists in others and can be overcome.

The existence of the song is proof of that: this is the transcript of the battle fought where negativity was in control, but eventually lost.

Another facet to this tale is putting on a brave face when dogged with persistent negativity (“some feelings have a habit of persisting, even though you wouldn’t let it show”) and the forced upper you have to tell yourself to negate this situation (“it’s alright now”).

The worst thing you can do with depression is put on a brave face and hide it: it makes it fester and grow deeper. No wonder depression wears people down, they feel embarrassed to admit they have it, so don’t share it.

Wally’s act of opening up about his situation is a positive for both himself and sufferers like me - like us. It IS alright now. And while it may seem safer to find an easy way out, the sharing process, while daunting, becomes a process of cleansing that uplifts you.

Seventeen seconds and I’m over it
Ready for the disconnect
Putting on a brave face
Trying not to listen
To the voices in the back of my head

(But it’s alright now)
It’s a distant memory baby
(It’s alright now)
You know you should just let it go

But some feelings have a habit of persisting
Even though you wouldn’t let it show

Wearing me out
(All this)
Hanging around
(It just starts)
Getting me down
(Till I go)
Looking for an easy way out

Braindead from boredom
I’m lead to distraction
Scratching the surface of life
Nothing really happens
But it’s easy to keep busy
When you tell yourself you’re traveling right

(It’s alright now)
Was it really worth it baby?
(Alright now)
Was it just a waste of time?

Keep on second-guessing
Use my memory like a weapon
On everything I try

Wearing me out
(All this)
Hanging around
(It just starts)
Getting me down
(Till I’m just)
Looking for an easy way out

Wearing me out
(It’s alright now)
Hanging around
(Alright now)
Getting me down
(It’s alright now)
Looking for an easy way out 

Track Five / Track Fourteen (bonus track): Smoke and Mirrors / Dig Your Own Hole

Both of these songs cover the same topic: the belief that you aren’t good enough, and the subsequent desire for acceptance and approval.

I was lucky enough to chat with Wally after his performance at Brisbane’s PowerHouse last year, and asked why “Dig Your Own Hole” wasn’t on the album, as I felt it’s worthy of being a single. Apart from being flattered about the quality of the song, he said that originally he was looking at making a dance / disco album, and when it changed direction “Dig Your Own Hole” didn’t fit any more.

While this response makes sense, I believe that he also felt that “Dig Your Own Hole” didn’t cover the issues as well as “Smoke and Mirrors”, and thematically it made sense to only include one.

Everyone with low self-esteem self-analyses themselves to the point of distraction, feeling that whatever they do isn’t good enough.

In Wally’s case, having successfully created two albums as Gotye, the difficult third album was proving a massive challenge. Using sample music as a basis for creation is cheating (“You’re a fraud and you know it”), and by repeating the same process would only prove to his doubters (and himself) that he is merely a one-trick pony (“What is it that you’ve done to make the grade? And should you do the same? Or is it too easy?” / “In the end, You dig yourself the hole you’re in … You just repeat yourself again”).

This feeling can be transcribed to any situation. Whatever it is you do for a living, it’s a repetition, even if it involves creativity. Naturally you will sometimes believe you’re just going through the motions, but that’s life. There’s nothing to be embarrassed by or overly critical when you do something well and people want you to continue to do it.

Similarly, the cry for appreciation (“Mother, are you watching?”) is another shared trait. Everyone needs to know they’re doing the right thing, and hopefully gain praise when they achieve something they feel is special.  In Wally’s case, the fact that artists are open to praise and criticism exposes him to the barbs of critics. 

As with anyone, the hateful stings of negativity from others are easier to remember than praise, as they hurt. But it’s important to remind yourself of the positive feedback you receive, as dwelling on the negatives will only cause your depression to deepen.

Finally, “Smoke and Mirrors” addresses a common trait found amongst those with low self-esteem: as they are introverts by nature, they create a larger-than-life character to help deflect the world by never showing their true nature. “Such highs and lows, you put on quite a show” isn’t restricted to those who perform on stage: it’s how many of us live our daily lives.

Like a magician using smoke and mirrors, we deflect people’s views of our inner-most selves as a way of self-protection. In doing so, we erect a facade and become performers who start over-analysing our actions.

In extreme situations, this facade makes the person become the ‘class clown’: the person who is always funny, the life of the party. But when the social situation is over, that person slinks away to their safe place where they can be themselves, and allow their true personality to emerge.

This isn’t a healthy way to lead your life. Not being yourself isn’t beneficial to yourself or society. There’s no reason you can’t continue to be entertaining to be with, but there’s also no reason why you can’t allow people to see your true self.

In opening up and letting your true personality shine, you will experience less “highs and lows” - which is a good thing, as the lows in depression are terrible, terrifying experiences.

Smoke and Mirrors

You’re a fraud and you know it
But it’s too good to throw it all away
Anyone would do the same
You’ve got ‘em going
And you’re careful not to show it
Sometimes you even fool yourself a bit
It’s like magic
But it’s always been a smoke and mirrors game
Anyone would do the same

So now that you’ve arrived, well you wonder
What is it that you’ve done to make the grade?
And should you do the same?
(Is that too easy?)
Are you only trying to please them?
Will they see then
You’re desperate to deliver
Anything that could give you
A sense of reassurance
When you look in the mirror

Such highs and lows
You put on quite a show
All these highs and lows
And you’re never really sure
What you do it for
Well do you even want to know?
You put on quite a show

(Mother)
Are you watching?
Are you watching?
(Mother)
Are you watching?
(Mother)
(Mother)

You’re a fraud and you know it
And every night and day you take the stage
And it always entertains
You’re giving pleasure
And that’s admirable you tell yourself
And so you’d gladly sell yourself
To others

(Mother)
Are you watching?
(Mother)
Are you watching?
(Mother)
Are you watching?

Such highs and lows
You put on quite a show
All these highs and lows
And you’re never really sure
What you do it for
Well do you even want to know?
Yeah, you put on quite a show 

Dig Your Own Hole

And you know it’s the wrong way round
Still you can’t say no
Ever playing upon your mind
But you won’t say why

(So shut up!)
Unless you’re ready to leave it
(Or make up your mind)
But you need it so much
(Do you really believe in it?)
Yes I do
From time to time

In the end
You dig yourself the hole you’re in
When you don’t know what you want
You just repeat yourself again
In the end
You just repeat yourself again
When you don’t know who you are
You dig yourself the hole you’re in

(Don’t worry)
It’s only in your mind
(Don’t worry)
But I do
From time to time

You just repeat yourself again
(Don’t worry)
You just repeat yourself again

(Don’t worry)
You just repeat yourself again
(Don’t worry)
You just repeat yourself again

Still it’s the wrong way round
And you won’t say no
Ever playing upon your mind
But you won’t say why

(So shut up!)
Unless you’re ready to leave it
(Or make up your mind)
But you need it so much
(Do you really believe in it?)
Yes I do, I do, this time

In the end
You dig yourself the hole you’re in
When you don’t know what you want
You just repeat yourself again
In the end
You just repeat yourself again
When you don’t know who you are
You dig yourself the hole you’re in

In the end
You just repeat yourself again
When you don’t know who you are
You dig yourself the hole you’re in 

Track Six: I Feel Better

The midpoint of the album turns away from the darkness with the first thank-you song to his girlfriend (Tash Parker) for helping him climb away from his depression.

The simplest way to beat depression is to open up to someone and see the world through their eyes. This simple tale is a wonderful tonic as it reflects its positive lyrics with an uplifting, poppy rhythm and melody.

There’s nothing more to say about the healing power of this song apart from: put it on, repeat and smile.

There was a time I was down, down
I didn’t know what to do
I was just stumbling around, around
Thinking things could not improve

I couldn’t look on the bright side
Of anything at all
That’s when you gave me a call…

And I feel better
Better
Better than before
Now I’m not down anymore

And there were times I was sure, so sure
I couldn’t turn it around
I couldn’t care anymore
About the good things I found

That’s when you gave me a reason
To make me smile again
I only have to see you and then

I feel better
Better
Better than before
Now I’m not down anymore

Life sometimes seems to get the best of you
Like everything just brings you down
Just when you think there’s nothing you can do
A friendly face will bring you around

And you’ll feel better

You’ll feel better
You’ll feel better
Better
Better than before
You’ll feel better
Much better
No, you won’t be down anymore

Track Seven: In Your Light

The feel-good tracks continue directly into this song (and followed by the novelty, non-depression track “State of the Art”), which continues the theme set by “I Feel Better”. While it appears to be more of a love song, the dependency and thanks for support are evident in the lyrics, especially direct references like “can settle the sadness and the voices in my head” and the blatant “I forget myself and everything else that depressed me yesterday”.

It’s important to give thanks to those who’ve helped you, as it reaffirms your acceptance that life isn’t bad and that you know you can overcome the negatives of depression.

Get up in the morning
and I can’t keep it in
I’m falling all over myself
and I could jump out of my skin
Wanna break the door down
Just to greet the day
There is nothing that’s more certain
To keep my blues away, and I say…

La la, hey hey
La la, hey hey

And it can settle the sadness
And the voices in my head
When I’m in the glow of the warmth you throw
I can put all that to bed

In your light, just when I’m in your light
And I won’t get by if you take that light away

When you’re smiling on me
That is all I need
To put behind me all my worries
and life’s complexities

It may be only a moment
But the world just falls away
And I forget myself
And everything else
That depressed me yesterday
And I can sing

La la, hey hey
La la, hey hey

When I’m in your light
All of this is clear
If only I could always be just as I am right here
In your light, just when I’m in your light
And I won’t get by if you take that light away

When I’m in your light
Nothing brings me down
If only I could always feel just as I do right now
In your light just when I’m in your light
And I won’t get by if you take that light away
When I’m in your light
All of this is clear
If only I could always be just as I am right here
In your light, just when I’m in your light
And I won’t get by if you take that light away

Track Nine: Don’t Worry, We’ll Be Watching

Thematically the most confusing on the album: is it about religion, big brother, cults, gangs, friends or even family?

Gotye albums always feature light and shade, and this is a menacing song that breaks up the flow of the album, inserted within the positive messages Wally is sending to his girlfriend.

I prefer not to look at the negative possibilities of this song, and see it as an ode to family and family-like groups that Wally has experienced in his life. 

From his birth or introduction to a group of people (“Hey, what’s your name”), he is welcomed and nurtured. And even when he is physically apart from these loved ones, even when times are tough or look bleak, they are still there in spirit.

This is another positive message for the depressed: knowing you are not alone, and that somewhere there is someone looking out for you. Even if you find their friendship and love hard to comprehend.

Hey
What’s your name?
Don’t worry…
And don’t be afraid
We won’t hurt you

Hey
Lost your way?
Well don’t worry…
Just do as we say
And we won’t hurt you

It’s hard
The world can lead you so astray
It gets harder
It’s hard just to keep the faith

Do you need a reminder?
Of the love that we gave you?

Don’t worry
You’re walking away…

But we’ll always be watching you
We’ll always be watching you

Track Ten: Giving Me A Chance

One of my absolute favourites of the album, this hypnotic track is an apology and thank-you message rolled into one.

When you feel negative and question yourself owing to low self-esteem, you do become self-absorbed. This makes you feel embarrassed as it quite often makes you hyper-sensitive to any sort of criticism, causing you to lash out at any sort of feedback: positive or negative. And you always hurt the ones you love the most.

This plea to accept forgiveness is something you need to make with those you have hurt because of your behaviour. Again, knowing that it has been done by someone else is a wonderful reinforcement to help you achieve the same result.

One a side note: the savvy listener will hear the connection between this track and the bonus “Dig Your Own Hole” with the “(Don’t worry)” chant from the latter being placed as the coda to this song, indicating that they could have been recorded during the same period.

You know I never want to let you down
It cuts me up to see you sad
And I wish that I could undo what I’ve done
Give back the faith in me you had

You know I love you more than anyone
But I get a little wrapped up in myself
But you know I never want to do you wrong
Bring into question what we have

I know I let you down
I know I let you down
But you’re giving me a chance
(Don’t worry)

Track Eleven: Save Me

A concert crowd favourite (it’s great to hear a mass of people chanting along with the ay-yeah-ay-yo), this is Wally’s open letter of love and thanks to Tash Parker.

It also provides a complete summary of his journey through depression and how her support helped him overcome it - essentially a summary of the main album theme.

It begins with his sinking into depression when his lack of self-esteem and anxieties about being able to create quality music were making him unable to face the day.

Knowing that his girlfriend had the courage and passion to uproot herself from her Northern Territory home and move to Melbourne to enhance her musical career is inspirational to Wally, and her love and support digs him out from his hole.

The most important aspect of this song is the reference to self-loathing that sufferers of depression have to deal with. 

"And I could not love, because I could not love myself." When you hear people say ‘you have to learn to love yourself’, it’s sometimes a surprise for them to understand how difficult it is for the depressed. Even though you KNOW you are a good person, you THINK you are not. 

Even though you KNOW you can achieve things, you THINK you are not good enough … so to avoid the prospect of failure (or even success) you don’t bother doing it at all.

"Never good enough, that was all I’d tell myself". This is the debilitating aspect of depression that is one of the hardest to destroy. 

I have been lucky to have been given a tool to help abate these voices: pretend that my body is a house, and that the voices that appear are visitors. Some are happily invited in, but others should be recognised for what they are: inconvenient passer-bys whose opinion is one that I don’t share, and happily showing them the exit. Eventually they stop visiting, and you can concentrate on more positive issues.

It’s wonderful to know from listening to this album that depression affects even the most talented of people, and can be overcome. Having it accompany me over the past year has helped me address my own demons, and I hope that through sharing my story, may help you address yours.

In the mornings
I was anxious
Better just to stay in bed
Didn’t want to fail myself again
Running through all the options
And the endings
Were rolling out in front of me
But I couldn’t choose a thread to begin
And I could not love
Cause I could not love myself
Never good enough, no
That was all I’d tell myself
And I was not well
But I could not help myself
I was giving…up on living
In the morning
You were leaving
Travelling south again
And you said you were not unprepared
And all the dead ends
And disappointments
Were fading from your memory
Ready for that lonely life to end
And you gave me love
When I could not love myself
And you made me turn
From the way I saw myself
And you’re patient, love
And you help me help myself
And you save me,
You save me,
You save me

BTW: In what appears a trivial throw-away, “Save Me” contains a thoughtful nod to one of Tash’s own songs: "Not Unprepared", which is her truly beautiful story of self-awareness, and one I suggest you add to your record collection ASAP.

  1. darthambiguous posted this
Themed by Hunson. Originally by Josh & tweaked like crazy by Darth Ambiguous